Despite the popularity of the rugged utility vehicles VW has halted UK sales of the Amarok, Mitusbishi has left Europe for good and Nissan plans to end sales of the Navara in all of Europe later this year.
That’s bad news for buyers looking for the widest selection of pick-ups to choose from but it’s great news for Ford and a handful of other brands who have maintained their dedication to the segment.
In Ford’s case it’s easy to see why. The Ranger is the best-selling pick-up in the UK, selling nearly twice as many as its closest rival, the Toyota Hilux, so far this year.
A good chunk of those sales will be basic trucks destined for hard lives with the likes of utility firms, police forces and tradespeople. But a decent proportion will be more lifestyle-oriented models designed to provide a solid working vehicle with the flexibility to accommodate families and all sorts of outdoor sports gear.
The Wildtrak has been the mainstay of this offering for years now, bringing the sort of luxuries you’d expect in Ford’s Kuga SUV to the truck segment.
That means seating for four (five at a squeeze) heated seats, dual-zone climate control, a built-in coolbox, reversing camera and an eight-inch touchscreen with smartphone mirroring. Externally, touches such as a “sports hoop” over the bed, side steps, contrast coloured trim and flashy 18-inch machined alloy wheels make it clear this isn’t a truck destined for life on the farm.
But, unlike the flashy Ranger Raptor with its “sports suspension”, the Wildtrak still has the utilitarian chops of more basic models. So, despite the fancy trim and double cab bodystyle, it still has a low-range transfer box, can still tow 3.5 tonnes and carry up to a tonne in the Euro pallet-compliant pick-up bed. There’s also an over-bed light, 230V socket for laptops etc and tie-down points and power socket in the load area.
One thing the Wildtrak shares with the Raptor is the now-standard 2.0-litre diesel engine. With 210bhp and 369lb ft of torque it has plenty of guts to shift the Ranger along and unless you’re very heavy footed it’s remarkably quiet, showing how far pick-ups have progressed in recent years.
The Ranger’s road manners are also a mark of how far the segment has come, with a composed and surprisingly quiet ride. There’s still a little unladen judder and some lean on twisty roads that mean it’s no match for a decent SUV but it’s far more refined and controlled than previous generations and current rivals like the Isuzu D-Max.
Two years ago, the Ranger had it tough, the latest L200 and Amarok in particular were worthy rivals at the lifestyle end of the market. With them gone, only the Hilux can mount a serious challenge - the Isuzu D-Max and SsangYong Musso both being a step down in price, refinement and quality.
That leaves the door open for Ford to dominate in the segment, and Ranger is a good truck. But £43k is a lot of money for a lifestyle statement, regardless of how good it is. Unless you really need the open load bed and massive towing capacity of a pick-up, there are plenty of decent SUVs and estate cars that will accommodate family and outdoor pursuits while offering a better day-to-day driving experience and lower running costs.
Ford Ranger Wildtrak
Price: £40,615.64 (£43,045.64 as tested); Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel; Power: 210bhp; Torque: 369lb ft; Transmission: 10-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive; Top speed: 112mph; 0-62mph: 9 seconds Economy: 36.2-36.7mpg; CO2 emissions: 201g/km